Martin Crimp’s latest work is his most innovative since his 1997 masterpiece Attempts on Her Life, and the first at this venue since The City in 2008. It is directed by the Royal Court’s outgoing artistic director Dominic Cooke, and has a large cast, and even larger themes. It is, perhaps, the playwright’s most overtly political play.
A scene from In the Republic of Happiness at the Jerwood Downstairs, Royal Court Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
At the same time, it explores theatre form by having three sections: the first, titled The Destruction of the Family opens on a family Christmas meal in which simmering tensions arise from the fact that the teenage daughter, Debbie, is pregnant and there’s no man in sight. Then Uncle Bob arrives and throws the gathering into confusion.
The next section is an open text in which the cast of eight perform a selection of lines, which - as in Attempts on Her Life - are not assigned to any one character, and which illustrate and comment on the extreme narcissism of contemporary society. It is satirically titled The Five Essential Freedoms of the Individual.
The final section, which takes place in a cold no-place, shows a dictator and his wife on the edge of extinction. In each of these three parts, Crimp’s writing is beautifully controlled and precise in its attack on selfishness, cruelty and the negative effects on the individual of a consumer society in which we are all customers rather than people.
But although Crimp’s political points are perfectly clear, this is also - in Cooke’s lively and vivid production - a highly entertaining evening, with wonderful songs brilliantly set to pop music by Roald Van Oosten. The cast are exceptionally present and in the moment. For those bored silly by panto, and other seasonal fare, this is the perfect antidote to a Christmas show. It is both hilarious and inspiring.